Australia’s vocational education and training (VET) system is recognised for its ability to support individuals at all stages of their working career. It supports those in secondary school, school leavers getting their first job and the existing workforce undertaking training to ensure their skills currency. Perhaps its best work is supporting those re-entering the workforce after a period of unemployment, having suffered a workplace injury or having experienced a set of personal circumstances that’s seen them without work.
The strength of Australia’s VET system is that it supports people to attain vital skills by completing individual units of competency or gaining full qualifications. That’s what makes Australia’s VET system amongst the best in the world. Its flexibility allows people to acquire and develop the skills they need to support their career journey.
Some stakeholders view VET through the prism of full qualifications, such as a Certificate IV, that are apparently considered to be superior and dismiss the work of those undertaking shorter courses. Presumably that was behind the extraordinary attack on the independent VET sector last week by a prominent public TAFE sector representative which criticised the independent sector for enjoying such a large market share – 81%. The suggestion was that independent providers have gained this market share as a result of delivering short courses such as first-aid and that somehow these courses aren’t of value. This is sad. Why make a cheap political point by attacking students who undertake short courses … are we seriously going to tell the first-aid student who came to the aid of an injured person that somehow their short course, that gave them life-saving skills, isn’t a valid VET course? Similarly, is the school leaver undertaking a barista course somehow not a “proper” student, even if their studies helped them get their first job?
Last week I spoke at the Community Colleges Australia (CCA) conference, a gathering of a vital component of the independent VET sector. I spoke to so many CCA members that do much of the heavy-lifting to support people get back into the workforce. The contributions of the CCA membership to strengthening the communities in which we live, by providing valuable skills to those seeking work is outstanding. Are these students – that are included in the 81% – somehow less valuable as students? Of course not, we should celebrate the achievements of every VET student, whether they undertake their studies with an independent provider or within the public TAFE sector.
The Independent Tertiary Education Council Australia (ITECA) will always highlight the great outcomes that its members support. There may be many short courses within the 81% market share, but as the 2019 ITECA State of the Sector Report notes, independent providers also deliver 58% of the VET Diplomas, 64% of the Certificate IV qualifications, 58% of the Certificate III qualifications – that’s around 1,923,024 qualifications delivered – an awful lot of students.
Australia’s VET system changes lives as it gives people a leg-up in the workforce. You only need to talk to those undertaking VET to see the difference. Last week we celebrated success at the 2019 Australian Training Awards, with student winners, who were supported by independent providers and the public TAFE sector. These students serve as an exemplar of everything that’s great about our VET system. Less well recognised is the achievements of those undertaking short-courses, perhaps as a pathway to entering the workforce. Their achievements and those of the providers that support them, whether independent or public TAFE, also merit recognition. As we look at meaningful reform of Australia’s VET system it’s important that we always be mindful of the people that rely of VET – the students at independent providers and the public TAFE sector.
ITECA Chief Executive